In December 2014, the Department for Education published a revised version of its model constitution for academy trust companies.  In addition to streamlining the single and multi-academy trust pro-formas into one document and tightening the wording of existing provisions, the new precedent and DfE policies effect some material changes to academy trusts’ governance structures.

Proposed converters need to pay these changes careful attention when constituting their membership and trustee/director boards, and ensure they stay in-line with DfE expectations.

Established groups and schools are currently not required to adopt the new constitution or implement the new principles.  However, the changes should still be noted in the context of the DfE’s continued drive to promote efficiencies across the sector, and sponsors and existing trusts may like to view the changes in policy as an opportunity to review their existing hierarchies and governing documents.

Independent members

The new articles of association contain a new restriction (at article 12A) to state that employees of an academy trust should not act as academy trust members. Recently the DfE has advocated that a Principal should not act as a member, to separate the Principal’s financial and vested interests in a trust from the wider interests of their school.  This inclusion formalises the principle and extends the restriction to everyone who has a financial interest in the entity.

In a similar context, sponsors and converting schools should note that the DfE, with a view to further promoting the principle of an independent membership, is also confirming to new trusts that it expects a number of a trust’s members to not also act as trustees/directors.

Trustees/directors

Historically, there have been no restrictions on the size of an academy trust’s board – the impetus being on a sponsor or converting school to ensure the board is of a size that supports an efficient and nimble operation.

While no changes have been made to restrict the number of governors in the pro forma documents, the DfE is currently confirming during the conversion process that it expects converting schools and new academy trusts to incorporate their entities with boards in the region of ten trustees/directors.

While, in itself, this should not cause any new academy trust concern, sponsors should be careful to ensure that the correct balance between external influence and internal representation is still maintained at trustee/director level.